Top Engineers – Doug Sax

Thelma Houston – I’ve Got The Music In Me

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  • This Sheffield direct-to-disc pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium at its best can be. It had everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension (so silky up there!) and ENERGY
  • Make no mistake, this here is a real Demo Disc. The sound is Wall to Wall!
  • Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings this album actually contains real music worth listening to

In our recent Shootout this wonderful pressing sounded far better than most other copies we played. It fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs!

Some copies lack energy, some lack presence, most suffer from some amount of smear on the transients. But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc process?

“Supposed to be eliminated” is a long way from “were eliminated.” Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the plated acetates (the “fathers”) and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other record. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout eight or ten copies of I’ve Got The Music In Me, and I’m not sure most audiophiles would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them gathered together, cleaned them all up, and off to the races we went. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Volume 1 – (S9)

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Reviews and Commentaries for Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues

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  • A stunning Shootout Winning pressing of this famous audiophile recording, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • This copy will be awfully hard to beat for sound – get your VTA right and the bottom end on this LP will turn into a Bass Demo Disc like nothing you’ve heard
  • It’s very difficult to find this album in clean condition, and even more difficult to find one that sounds as good as this one does
  • One of the rarest Hot Stamper records bar none — only a handful have ever made it to the site

This is a stunning copy of The Big One — Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues’ first Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP aka S9. We’ve been comparing and contrasting pressings of this album for more than twenty years and this is one of the better copies we’ve stumbled upon. The sound is BIG, RICH and FULL OF ENERGY.

Both sides have prodigious amounts of bottom end. It is a thrill to hear the power of the bass on this recording. The kick drum is HUGE.

Both sides have about as much Tubey Magic as can be found on the album, although Tubey Magic is clearly not what the engineers were going for with this recording. It’s a sound that many copies reproduce less than ideally, being somewhat dry. (more…)

The Awful Sound of the Heavy Vinyl Reissues Doug Sax Mastered in the ’90s

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Longstanding customers know that we have been relentlessly critical of most audiophile LPs for years, especially in the case of these Analogue Productions releases from back in the early ’90s. A well-known reviewer loved them, I hated them, and he and I haven’t seen eye to eye on much since.

Newflash!

Just dug up part of my old commentary discussing the faults with the orginal series that Doug Sax cut for Acoustic Sounds. Check it out!

In the listing for the OJC pressing of Way Out West we wrote:

Guaranteed better than any 33 rpm 180 gram version ever made, or your money back! (Of course I’m referring to a certain pressing from the early ’90s mastered by Doug Sax, which is a textbook example of murky, tubby, flabby sound. (Too many bad tubes in the chain? Who knows?)

This OJC version also has its problems, but at least the shortcomings of the OJC are tolerable. Who can sit through a pressing that’s so thick and lifeless it communicates none of the player’s love for the music? If you have midrangy bad transistor equipment, go with the 180 gram version (at twice the price). If you have good equipment, go with this one.

[We are no longer fans of the OJC of Way Out West, and would never sell a record that sounds the way even the best copies do as a Hot Stamper. It’s not hopeless the way the Heavy Vinyl pressing is, but it’s not very good either. It’s yet another example of a record we was wrong about. Live and Learn, right?

The following commentary comes from our catalog from the mid- to late-’90s, back when I could still find great jazz records like Alternate Takes. Note also that the AP records were in print at the time. (more…)

What the Hell Happened to Bernie Grundman and Doug Sax?

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This Contemporary pressing has wonderful sound. This should not be too surprising as it was recorded by one of our favorite engineers, Allen Sides, working out of his Oceanway studios. (Supposedly he is a big fan of vintage mics and the like, with many superb and valuable examples.)

In addition the album was mastered by Bernie Grundman, who was at the time still cutting very good sounding records, this being 1980. Since then he has gone precipitously downhill, as we have noted on the site often.

This is the man who cut some of the best sounding records I have ever played, including many of the best Contemporary recordings, but his work in recent decades has left much to be desired.

He sure has fooled a lot of audiophile record reviewers, but not us I venture to say. We never jumped on the Classic Records bandwagon, and to this day we cannot understand how any critical listener could be fooled by the countless Heavy Vinyl mediocrities that awful label put out.

You can say the same thing for Doug Sax, a man whose work took a turn for the worse long ago. The sad reality is that the dull, thick, lifeless, veiled, ambience-free records he cut for Acoustic Sounds and Klavier in the ’90s were no worse than the dreck being made today.

The more things change… (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – The Best Sounding Copy We’ve Ever Heard

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  • A KILLER copy with DEMO DISC Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the second side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title
  • It doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper
  • Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright; on this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom and the horns sound especially wonderful

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!


What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Sullivan – The Merchant of Venice Suite – Another Dubby Klavier Record

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl Classical LP debunked.

This is yet another murky, smeary Audiophile Piece of Trash from the mastering lathe of the formerly brilliant Doug Sax. He used to cut the best sounding records in the world. Once he started cutting Heavy Vinyl it was all over.

This record includes music from three early Sullivan works: Incidental Music to The Tempest; Suite from The Merchant of Venice; and, Overture in C, “In Memoriam.”

Harry James & His Big Band – The King James Version

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  • This KILLER Sheffield pressing has insanely good Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides here fulfill the promise of the direct to disc recording technology in a way that few – very, very few – direct to disc pressings can
  • Big Band energy and enthusiasm unlike any other copy we played, as well as the most natural sounding ambience of any copy in our shootout
  • This one has everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension and more – it’s a real Demo Disc, make no mistake about it

On the best pressings, the horns are so lively and high-rez, not to mention full-bodied, this could easily become a favorite big band album to demo or test with — or just to enjoy the hell out of.

Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings, this album actually contains real music worth listening to — but only when the pressing lets the energy of the musicians through, with actual fidelity to the sounds of the real instruments. Brass without bite is boring. Drummers who are too delicate in their drumming will put you to sleep. (more…)

The Sheffield Track Record – Who in His Right Mind Thinks This Is a Super Disc?

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The Sheffield Track Record

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing.

This is a Minty looking Sheffield Lab LP of Rock Instrumental Tracks For Audio Component Testing and Evaluation. Harry Pearson calls this absolutely the best sounding rock record ever made.

We cannot agree with HP as to the recording quality of this album. The sound is surprisingly compressed, and the music is every bit as lifeless as the sound.

The Sheffield Drum Record

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Minty looking Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP has AMAZING SOUND. We played it against other pressings we had and this was clearly the winner. It’s lively, with a wonderfully extended top and bottom. We rate it about A++ – A+++ on both sides. 

The record features improvisations from Jim Keltner (one of the all-time great session drummers) and Ron Tutt (Elvis Presley’s studio drummer). The album is a member of the famous TAS list.

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on both sides of this AMAZING Hot Stamper! This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title. The sound doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper. 

We just finished a big shootout of this album [in 2009!] and this Flower label pressing was the undisputed champion. Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright. On this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The horns sound especially wonderful.

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)